The UAE and the United States opened a new chapter in cooperation last week by signing a nuclear energy agreement. As long as the US Congress does not object, the deal will be enacted, placing the UAE on the road to becoming the first Arab nation with nuclear power plants.
Support for the deal comes from several luminaries, including Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the former US senator Sam Nunn, Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Barbara Judge, chairwoman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. With these endorsements, how can anyone object to enacting the agreement? Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is worried that the deal could spark a nuclear arms race in the region. But such fears appear overblown as long as the UAE keeps its promise to maintain a transparent peaceful nuclear programme and refrains from acquiring weapons-usable technologies such as uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Notably, Iran has been developing a latent nuclear weapons capability through an enrichment programme.
Ros-Lehtinen and other politicians have also sounded an alarm on Iranian trans-shipments of non-nuclear military hardware through the UAE. They have proposed an amendment to the agreement that would require the US President to certify that no militarily useful technologies will transit through the UAE to Iran. This issue has an emotional appeal because American troops in Iraq have been killed with improvised explosive devices that US government officials say were supplied by Iran.